The growing divide between Jammu and Kashmir (News Analysis)

August 6th, 2008 - 12:12 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Amarnath Shrine
By Murali Krishnan
New Delhi, Aug 6 (IANS) As Hindu majority Jammu burns and Muslim dominated Srinagar simmers over conflicting claims on land being allotted to the Amarnath shrine board, close watchers fear the polarisation between the plains and the valley may have reached a point of no return. The troubled state of Jammu and Kashmir has been witnessing unrest since May 26 when the government allotted 40 hectares of land in the valley to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) that manages the pilgrimage to the high altitude shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva. Fourteen people in both regions have already died in clashes that have acquired a communal edge and protests, violence and shutdowns have become a daily occurrence.

“This is the most polarised situation I have seen in a generation. I think before the situation is tackled, tempers have to cool down,” said Omar Abdullah, president of the National Conference, fresh from his trip to Srinagar.

“One needs to step back from the brink and handle this very carefully. It’s sitting literally on a tinderbox.”

Sixty-five percent of the nearly eight million population of the state, the only Muslim majority state in the country, are Muslims while Hindus constitute nearly 30 percent — with most Muslims based in the Kashmir valley and Hindus in the plains of Jammu.

But the drift between the two wings, which became one unit when the Kashmir Valley was ceded to Jammu’s Dogra kings in 1846 when British rulers signed what is known as Treaty of Amritsar, may never have been as apparent as right now.

Former chief secretary Ashok Jaitly, who has been closely monitoring the troubled state, is as disturbed as Abdullah.

“It is terrible and the animosities run so deep. What is more frightening is that the integrity of the state has come into question. The entire situation has been so badly handled for such selfish gains,” Jaitly told IANS.

With pitched battles being played out intermittently in various areas, the hostilities refuse to ebb. Fuelling the fires is the daily hardships being faced by the people in the valley and in the plains.

The economic blockade by protesters, for instance, has hit fresh supplies of essentials like medicines and mutton to the valley. In the plains of Jammu region, the many days of shutdown, including five consecutive days of curfew, has seen life coming to a standstill.

Besides the economic losses with businesses being closed, the fruit industry in the Valley has also suffered huge losses. Fruit growers had even threatened to route their supplies to the country through Muzaffarabad (in Pakistan administered Kashmir) and from there to the Pakistan town of Rawalpindi and then to Amritsar.

“Cutting off the lifeline to the state by blocking the Srinagar-Jammu highway for several days now is extremely serious. As a result, Kashmir is facing a shortage of medicines, especially life-saving drugs and businessmen are talking of transporting goods through Muzaffarabad. Can you ever imagine this scenario?” asked Jaitly.

Reports that Muslim members have been assaulted by Hindus in the Jammu region during this period of unrest has only exacerbated tensions.

“The fact that the Jammu administration had to black out two local television news channels and seal the offices of two Hindi dailies for allegedly whipping up communal passions shows the serious fallout of this stir,” said Wahid Bhatt, a senior advocate in Srinagar.

Though the ban was lifted following an agreement with the television channels, the provocative material that was broadcast had already incited passions.

“I have never seen a situation like this in a very long time. But who is responsible?” asked separatist leader Yasin Malik, who Tuesday began a “fast unto death” in Lal Chowk, the heart of Srinagar, against the government’s inability to curb communal violence.

“The authorities have imposed a false curfew in Jammu. This communal lot from Himachal Pradesh and Punjab who are siding with the protesters have to be isolated and I will ensure that those in the Valley do not play into their hands,” Malik told IANS over the phone.

The Jammu protests, which have been going on since July 1 when the government backtracked on its decision to allot land to the shrine board, are being led by the Amarnath Yatra Sangharsh Samiti, a conglomerate of 30 groups including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

For a state that has witnessed nearly two decades of unceasing militancy, it is ironical this particular phase of violence has nothing to do with separatists. But that doesn’t make it less dangerous.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Posted in National |